Saying goodbye to Princess Leia

I have been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember and a large part of that reason was Princess Leia. Growing up in the 70s and 80s she was, along with Charlies’ Angels, the kind of cute but fearless hero that I longed to be like.

Later in life I came to appreciate Carrie Fisher for her other roles in films like When Harry met Sally, and more recently her brilliantly comic turn as the mother-in-law from Hell in sitcom Catastrophe, but most especially for her writing.

Cover of The Princess DiaristHaving been equal parts amused and horrified by her earlier memoir Wishful Drinking*, late last year I placed a hold on her most recent effort, The Princess Diarist. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that by the time the book became available that she would be dead. How could I have? And even worse, that her family would suffer a double tragedy when her mother, Debbie Reynolds, would follow just a couple of days later. I wept unapologetically and over the Christmas period I watched song and dance numbers from Singin’ in the rain on YouTube and moped.

So it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I finally picked up The Princess Diarist and, after steeling myself and making sure a box of tissues was handy, started to read it.

But I barely needed them because, and this is the magic of writing and the author’s voice, Carrie Fisher was alive again on every page. Dripping with acerbic, self-deprecating wit and wordplay, The Princess Diarist was this amazingly comforting fan experience for me.

In case you didn’t know, the book is based on Fisher’s diaries from 1976 during the making of the first Star Wars film. The book is a mix of explanatory set-up of how she came to even been in the movie (or showbiz for that matter) and her observations on that time from a distance of some 40 years, as well as some really fascinating musings on the nature of fame, or at least her very specific version of it. And throughout runs her brutally honest humour and no BS attitude. The main revelation of the book is her on set affair, at the age of nineteen, with her married-with-kids co-star Harrison Ford. She dedicates a whole chapter to it which is, rather delightfully, titled “Carrison”.

You have the eyes of a doe and the balls of a samurai.

(Harrison Ford “breaking character” by saying something heartfelt to Fisher, as they parted company)

The book also includes a section of verbatim entries from the aforementioned diary. In some ways this was my least favourite part, only because it’s written by a rather tortured teenager about her less than satisfying love life and I have unfond memories of writing similarly tortured diary entries when I was the same age. I can immediately understand why it took her 40 years to publish any of it (There is poetry. About Harrison Ford being distant. It’s wonderful/terrible).

Having said that, Fisher’s diaries are much better written than those of the average teenager. She admits to having been rather precocious and the sly humour and clever use of language would read as being written but someone much older… if not for the This Is So Very Important And Deep style of diarying that teenagers of a certain sort are prone to.

So skim through that section, casting grains of salt as  you go, would be my advice. But the rest of it is great – an absolute must-read for Princess Leia fans, or just fans of Fisher’s signature snappy rejoinders.

Having got through pretty much the whole book with nary more than a slight moistening of eye, I admit to some small amount of tearfulness upon reading the acknowledgments, primarily due to this passage –

For my mother – for being too stubborn and thoughtful to die. I love you, but that whole emergency, almost dying thing, wasn’t funny. Don’t even THINK about doing it again in any form.

No, that part at least, was not funny at all.

More Carrie Fisher

*The audiobook version is narrated by Fisher herself, so if you really, really want to hear that sonorous voice in your head you can!

Like a virgin

I am not at all a technophobe. I need wifi to live. I live a reasonable proportion of my life online. I feel naked without my phone being within arm’s reach.

And yet, until recently I had never read an ebook or listened to an downloadable audiobook.

Yes, I was a library digital download virgin.

Why?

Cover of Magpie HallI guess I just really like the heft and feel of a book in my hands. But, realising that it was actually a ridiculous thing for a web librarian to not have even tried digital library titles, and spurred on by our Community Read, I decided to give it a go and read New Zealand novel Magpie Hall on my phone.

And it wasn’t bad, actually. I thought I’d perhaps find the text too small, but I was pleasantly surprised. I chose to read in browser rather than download it. The  interface was uncluttered and the text smooth and screen-friendly. And though it was odd not to be able to see my progress via the turning of accumulated pages, Wheelers had thoughtfully included a percentage figure at the top right of my screen so I could tell when I was nearly halfway or approaching the end of the book. Nice.

Cover of The Fangirl's Guide to the GalaxyNext up, I downloaded an OverDrive audiobook (and detangled my long neglected earbuds). This format was also pretty easy to use if you get yourself the free app. Having never tried an audiobook before I found myself enjoying how the reader interpreted the prose. Because I was reading, sorry, listening to something that was quite humorous and lighthearted in tone (namely, The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy – expect to see a review on this blog in the near future) it was nice to have that echoed in the delivery. It wasn’t all that different to the voice I hear in my head when I’m reading something myself, albeit with an American accent.

Cover of As You WishI’ve since discovered that some audiobooks are actually read by the author, like As You Wish, about the making of the movie The Princess Bride, a book that I read on paper when I COULD HAVE BEEN LETTING WESTLEY READ IT TO ME WITH HIS LOVELY POSH VOWELS, OMG! There are also audio cameos in As You Wish, including Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal. I’d be willing to wager that Billy Crystal does a better version of his voice than the version of it I did in my head.

Similarly, I would happily listen to Carrie Fisher read one of her books because, someone once described her voice as “sonorous” and I’d have to agree that it’s very listenable. I love hearing writers read their own work. You never have to worry that they’re misinterpreting it.

From talking to other people who have more experience with audiobooks, it seems that a lot of the enjoyment of a book in this format can come down to whether or not the voice of the person reading it to you is a good fit. Timbre, accent, speed and intonation, if they’re wrong or jarring to your ear, can have a distracting effect. So it’s pretty handy that our downloadable audiobooks have a short excerpt available, right there in the catalogue. Just click and listen to see if the voice of the reader suits you or not. Easy.

So on the whole, I’d have to say my first fumbling forays into downloadable library content have gone pretty well. I still do like the feeling of a physical book, but I’ll certainly not look down my nose at an eBook every now and again (especially when travelling).

Feel like being brave and giving digital downloads a go? Then you may be interested in the following info –

Updated:I totally forgot to mention that when I accidentally wiped all the data off my phone (don’t ask) and had to set it up from new, when I reloaded the OverDrive app it knew exactly where I’d got up to and asked if I’d like to start listening again from that point. Bloody clever!

But what I really want to do is direct…

I was watching a movie t’other week on the telly-box starring that wunderkind of nineties indie films, Ethan Hawke, when I suddenly remembered that he had also written a novel that I had actually enjoyed reading. And so I wondered “How many other bona fide movie stars have written novels”?

My idle musings started well as Carrie Fisher’s work immediately sprung to mind. Postcards from the edge would have to be her most well-known book (due to the successful film starring Meryl Streep) but she’s also penned The best awful and Surrender the pink. Her latest non-fiction work, the punnily titled Wishful drinking, hit the library shelves just recently.

And then my movie star novelist list ground to a halt. There are plenty of actors of varying degrees of fame in both films and television that have written novels, but none that I really judged to be “stars”. Until I came across Steve Martin, who in addition to acting and directing has written several novels and plays. One of his novels Shopgirl was made into a film of the same name starring…Steve Martin, natch.

I did discover in my poking around in the catalogue and Googling that there are a healthy swag of British thesps who have written fiction. What is it about British comic actors that makes them more likely to pen novels than other actors or actresses I wonder? Amongst the field are such names as – Michael Palin, Ben Elton, Ardal O’Hanlon (aka Father Dougal), Julie Walters, Meera Syal, Nigel Planer (Neil, when he was a Young One) and the inimitable Stephen Fry. I’m also intrigued by the novels of Rupert Everett, luvvie playboy extraordinaire, but sadly we don’t have any of his, though I may try out his autobiography. It sounds a hoot.

And back to Ethan Hawke, which is where we sort of started.  His book The hottest state is now a movie, written, directed by, and starring Mr Ethan Hawke.  Maybe writing a novel is a good way of securing yourself a directing gig?

Does anybody else have any favourite actor-slash-novelists to add to the mix?